Exercise in older age ‘protects against dementia’

    8 August 2016

    Researchers at UCLA say they have found an association between low physical activity and a higher risk of dementia.

    The study, which has been published in the Journals of Gerontology, suggests that regular physical activity could lead to larger brain volumes and a reduced risk of developing the disease.

    Using the Framingham Heart Study (a cohort study which began in 1948) to assess how physical activity affects the size of the brain, they found that physical activity particularly affects the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory.

    The researchers tracked the health of 3,700 participants over a decade, and analysed the MRI scans of 2,000. They say that the protective effects of regular exercise are strongest in people over the age of 75.

    Instant analysis
    Physical activity is one of the default positions health professionals go to when talking to patients about improving their long-term health. Its benefits on lifting mood and promoting self-esteem are well known but this study suggests it may also actively be beneficial in reducing the risk of dementia in certain people. Researchers at UCLA appear to have found that regular physical activity affects the size of part of the brain called the hippocampus, that helps control memory, with low physical activity being linked to a higher dementia risk in older people. The protective effect of regular physical activity against dementia seems to be strongest in people aged 75 or over.

    This study isn’t going to set the medical world on fire but is encouraging in that it seems to be further evidence of the health benefits of exercise on the brain. It would seem that you are never too old to exercise for brain health and we can continue to promote the message of ‘activity good, inactivity bad’ with confidence.
    Research score: 3/5